Friday, November 23, 2007

Trip to Kodai - Day 2

Well, day 2 actually begins around eleven in the morning when we left George's place in Kodai for the camp, which is in Kookkal Village about 35kms away. The Alamo is George's idea of catering to the yuppie crowd, with money to burn. Stables, log cabins, Mexican food, the works. I am not sure how successful it would be though George feels it holds a lot of promise. We piled into the front of the old vintage army truck along with George and his handyman at the back, to take care of the various gates on the way. All our provisions for the three day trip were in the back. Surprisingly, the vehicle started and rolled off without any trouble.

We took some time to get out of the town - the crowd had started streaming by then and the roads up to the observatory and beyond were blocked. All the vehicles were parked haphazardly on the road and it was total chaos as everyone was playing a game of one-upmanship, being in a hurry. The result being utter confusion on the road, especially at the picnic spots - it made me really sad to see the litter of plastic plates, cups and bottles and God knows what else strewn all over the place. Luckily we got out of the place and it got more and more beautiful as we went further away from town. The final few kms to Kookkal (that is the end of the road !) were really lovely, with breathtaking curves and green meadows - i guess we arrived at the correct time.

Pretty soon, we were passing through thickly wooded areas and George announced that we were almost there - the truck was behaving beautifully though I half expected it to give up its ghost at any moment. A milestone indicated 6kms to Kookkal (or was it 4kms?!) and George cut across the road to park the vehicle. We were greeted by the chatter of birds and animals that we could not identify. George had his handymen take our bags to the camp which is around a 100ms from where the vehicle was parked.

Bala, our cook for the next three days had arrived earlier and was waiting for us with a piping hot lunch, which was served on the sitout. ( Have a look at the photo). And man, even though the lunch consisted of just rice, a curry, with thoran, corned beef and pappad, it was simply delicious. The rice was of the brown organic variety, which George buys from Kodai. Both of us enjoyed it very much and hogged like mad, as if we had not eaten for days altogether. It was topped off with a carrot cake that Ivy - George's wife - had made. Man, that was a cake to kill for !! So delicious that it just melted in your mouth. The heavy lunch plus the beating that our bodies had taken in the bus the previous night, all combined to make us drowsy and we decided to take a nap.

The room inside was basic but neat and clean, with a bathroom/toilet attached. Another door from the bedroom leads into Bala's territory - the kitchen. The bathroom is pretty basic with no running water but don't worry - you are not going to run out of water at any time. George and Bala take care of it for you - there are a couple of wells on the property and they supply you with all the water that you want. In fact, they even go to the extent of heating up water for your bath - what more could you ask for ? No electricity in the place either; no TVs ; no telephones !! What bliss !!

We crashed out and when we woke up, it was slowly getting dark and there was a chill in the air. We had our baths and decided to walk down to the Kookkal Lake which was featured so prominently in the photographs that George had hung about the place. (All his own !) It was a downhill stroll all the way for about a km or so.

When we reached the place, we were in for a disappointment - not much of water and we could see some construction going on - apparently they were building a bund to prevent the kind of havoc caused the previous year. There was a settlement a little further away which we took to be Kookkal village, where we could see a few lights and hear the strains of some music being played - they were having themselves a good time down there. We spent some time there by the lakeside, trying our hands at photography but then gave up and decided to get back.

But getting back was easier said than done - it was a pretty steep uphill climb all the way and by the time we got back to the camp, we were really glad to see that George had a good campfire going. We settled down by its side and brought out our bottle of Australian wine that we had so carefully bought all the way from Bangalore, via Chennai! George took out a bottle of his own home-made pineapple wine and we were all set.

We spent a lovely time by the fireside listening to stories and to the harmonica that George played so beautifully.Since there is no other activity possible around the place, we decided to have an early dinner and go to bed. Dinner was a candlelit one, with the table laid out in the bedroom itself as the outside had become quite cool by now. Started off with a soup, followed by chappathis and chicken curry. I am sure both George and Bala were disappointed with the quantity that we ate - however much we hogged, we could not finish off everything. If this is the way it is going to be, I think I can stay here for quite a long time. The table was cleared and the bed made and it was time to say Good night. The only sounds that we could hear were the ones made by some insects/animals in the forest outside and the occasional creak of the trees.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trip to Kodai - Day 1

Once it was decided that we were going to Bison Wells, then came the job of arranging the logistics. How should we get to Kodai ? The place being accessible only by road, we had to decide if we would travel all the way there from Chennai by bus or if we should take a train to kodai road (the nearest rail head) and then proceed to Kodai by bus or jeep/car. In the event, we plumped for the former, for reasons of economy and convenience (so we thought!). Bison Wells was some 35kms away from town and we would definitely need to hire a vehicle from town to reach the place - about Rs.1000/ for a one-way trip. So, it made sense that we try to ensure that we reach Kodai in the simplest manner possible with the least number of changes. We booked ourselves on Parveen Travels (they provide online ticketing) about a couple of weeks before our intended journey, with each ticket costing about Rs.450/- Both KPN Travels as well as the State Express Transport Corporation were offering services but like a fool, I remained unaware of it until circumstances forced me to open my eyes.

Anu was working till the date of departure - in fact, she was on night duty the day previous to it. We decided to take a cab to the Koyambedu bus stand and in my usual style started off from home at about 1815hrs for the bus scheduled to leave at 1900hrs. Almost immediately we were swallowed by the traffic, crawling past. We were lucky to get there when we did - just in time. Only to find that the bus would not leave for quite sometime more !!! Confirming our tickets at the counter, imagine my surprise to find that there was already somebody else in the seats allotted to us. And this after I had telephonically confirmed our reservations twice !!! If this were the fate of online ticketing, i should not have been surprised by what followed. The chap in the office casually allotted us different seats and appeared surprised when I told him that we were not accustomed to travel sitting in the laps of strangers, as those seats were also full !!! He came to the bus, made an inspection, swore at the system (the computerised reservation system, that is) and at his subordinates and promptly asked us to occupy the two front seats - just behind the driver, the place that I normally dread travelling in !! He promised us that we would not have any trouble - apparently the misunderstanding was due to the fact that their server had crashed taking all its data with it - and left us to our fate !! Little did I know what was in store.

The bus took off at about 1945hrs - but then who was keeping time ? this is supposed to be a vacation, right ? - and pushed off through God knows which places. Try as I might, I could not identify the various roads through which he was taking us and finally I gave up trying !! We had a movie going and we had to stretch our necks gracefully like swans to catch a glimpse of the action. I don't remember what the movie was - and that must tell you a lot about what kind it was ! Anyway, the bus soon got onto the East Coast Road and the going was much smoother and pleasanter with a good sea-breeze blowing in. We stopped on the way at the Mamalla Annexe for dinner - pretty good it was too !! I must have dozed off after that, waking up only on the outskirts of Pondicherry around 2300hrs. We stopped at the offices of Praveen travels and that is when our nightmare started. Just imagine this situation - there you are, casually stretching yourself and your cramped muscles, generally reflecting on the fun you are going to have on this long-awaited holiday when in comes our hero, in the form of the local agent of Parveen travels, holding a checklist and pad in hand. He takes a look-around, taps you on the arm and asks you to step out - as you see in the old Westerns, just prior to a shootout at the OK Corral !! When you look askance at him, he informs that you are in the wrong seat and that you will have to vacate for the rightful owner. When you ask him to arrange for getting yours, he expresses his helplessness!!! He has his customers to please and we not his concern - not in the least. We have to look out for ourselves and I literally take him at his word, refusing to budge, unless my original seats are restored to me. He decides to help me out and orders the couple occupying our original seats to move out - and then all hell breaks loose !!! This new chap is a different kettle of fish altogether from me and the travel agent immediately finds himself in hot water, with solid abuse from all the passengers. His customers - a lady and her two small kids - are caught in the midst of it. The drivers add to confusion by saying that they needed to take off as they were already late and suddenly we find that the agent is nowhere to be found - he has done a neat disappearing trick, leaving his passengers to fend for themselves. With no other alternative, my chivalrous instincts kick in and I offer my seat to the lady - the driver's cabin it is going to be for me and the driver and cleaner are gracious enough to arrange a temporary seat there for the entire journey. I had a ringside view of the night transport on the road and suffice to say that if, like cats, humans also have nine lives, I have used my share and more, on that one single journey. If there was a single stretch of road where we were not on the wrong side, a single occasion when we dimmed our headlights for oncoming traffic, when we took a turn sticking to the correct side of the road or stuck to the traffic signals - I was not aware of it and that was not for lack of awareness,either !!! The driving was of such high quality that I sat petrified in my seat, as if screwed down there, with my heart, stomach and various other organs in my mouth, not even daring to breathe for fear of distracting the driver from the road as even a a fractional mistake on his part would have sent me to an early grave - I would have been the first to go !!! We had rest stops on the way with a change of driver at Trichy and this new guy was worse (if that were possible !!) than the first. We almost took on a lorry head-on at Trichy and after an eyeball to eyeball confrontation, continued on our merry way. Clearly, I am getting a bit too old for this kind of adrenaline rush !!!

Around 0530 hrs in the morning, we reached Dindigul and that was when I got a seat - on one of the last rows and that is the last I remember for the next couple of hours till Batalagundu on the Ghat Road when I woke up to find ourselves in the midst of a traffic block, with every Tom, Dick and Harry from the plains wanting to travel to Kodai on this day. I shifted seats back to Anu's side as the lady had dropped off somewhere in between - Anu tells me that she is the wife of the manager of one of Hindustan lever's estates. Too bad that we were not able to cadge an invitation from her !! - and that was the end of whatever sleep I had manged to get. Thankfully, the weather was noticeably cooler and less sticky - we were already climbing and I could see the long line of vehicles waiting to make the ascent. The roads were in pretty good condition and by about 9.30, we were in town, after a couple of blocks at the Silver Cascade and some other place, turning into Hotel Sivapriya where apparently these guys are allowed to park.

As soon as we got down, I took off for the Travels office as I did not want a repeat of last night's journey on the return. Managed to convince the long-haired, hippy manning the office that I had legitimately booked the return ticket that I was showing him and that he should not sell off those seats to anybody else !! That done, we could now think about more mundane matters like freshening up, breakfast and the like. Anu made use of the toilet facilities at the restaurant of Hotel Sivapriya while I - made of sterner stuff - decided to wait until we reached George's place. Feeling a bit guilty about it, we decided to honour the hotel with our custom, though the cost of a breakfast of idli, sambar and vada was announced to be Rs.75/-, but fortunately it was not to be - our transport was already on its way and there was no way that we could ask the jeep driver to wait for us until we finished a leisurely breakfast.

Getting out with our luggage before the restaurant manager could get wise, we waited for a couple of minutes on the road outside. The place looks much cleaner than OOty - maybe it is too early in the day to comment !! For eighty bucks, the jeep took us to George's place - Camp George - on the road past the Observatory. The road was dug up for a bit and hence we had to take a diversion through somebody else's estate !! On reaching Camp George, we found our host waiting for us - his long beard and bald head as well as the grey attire made him stand out. He took us to his new guest house - the Alamo - which was a new concept that he was promoting, that of a Mexican Cantina with Tex-Mex cuisine, complete with riding stables and the works.
The building consists of two bedrooms with a separate dining room -all done with local wood. Looks out upon the stables and grasslands - felt really good. Had our bath and got ready to leave for Bison Wells in George's army truck - which is as much a part of the Bison Wells story as George himself.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Trip to Kodai

Well, this was a trip that was a long time in the making - if there is any sort of award for the trip that has been planned the longest and expectantly waited for, then this one to Kodaikanal would certainly win it hands down. Anu and myself started dreaming about it, then discussing about it and finally deciding on the place and time - all this was done about six months back in December during our last trip home. Once we had decided that we would be going, came the task of deciding on the kind of trip, which again was pretty easy - one which would allow us to test our hiking leg and also allow us to get up close with the wildlife.

Once we had fixed on Kodai - Ooty we rejected as being too commercialised and dirty and moreover, Kodai was a place that Anu had only vague memories of - came the task of getting the right kind of accommodation at the right place and at the right rate, the last being very important !! We were pretty clear in our minds that we did not want any place in town - as far away from the holidaying crowd the better, one which could give us ample opportunities for trekking and seeing wildlife and nature at its best and one which was also affordable. We went through various travel magazines and articles - the Outlook traveller Magazine as well as their handbook of 75 short breaks from Bangalore - as well as that ever-reliable source of modern-day information, the Net. We finally shortlisted it to the Cinnabar Farm , Elephant Valley and Bison Wells. Unfortunately, we had to scratch the first two as being way too far out of our financial range but then as it turned out, it was not so unfortunate after all. But that is like putting the cart before the horse - I am getting way ahead of my story.

We fixed on Bison Wells, not only because of the information that we got from their website and from the travel magazines but also from the photographs that Binu had put up on his Blog, from his honeymoon there. His photos helped clinch the decision - Bison wells, it was going to be. Since Anu had very few days of leave left, we had to club our vacation with one or more the rare holidays that she has and so we thought of the week of May 1st. We started off our correspondence with George Roshan, the proprietor of Bison Wells and were pleasantly surprised by the prompt and courteous response. He must have been shocked by the mail - somebody enquiring about availability and reservation in May, right at the beginning of the year !! Anyway, the offer sounded too good to be true and we did not want to lose it at any cost - we blocked the dates and George very graciously told us that he would hold it without payment until there was another enquiry for those dates. the procedure is to transfer the entire cost of the stay ( food is included in the tariff) as confirmation of your plans. You lose the entire amount if you cancel within five days of your proposed date of occupancy and 40% if it is before. Fair enough, I suppose, looking at the logistics involved. Having an account with SBI helped - a couple of clicks of the mouse and the deed was done. ha !! The comforts of modern day technology.

We traded e-mails about the travel from Kodai to Bison Wells - about 30km and 90minutes drive away from town - and finally decided that he would get a jeep to pick us up from the bus stand in the morning to his place in town and then on to Bison Wells by his truck ( and that is some vehicle, mind you !). We decided against going by train - in any case, we would have to get down at Kodai Road at some vague hour in the morning and catch a transport up the Ghats to reach the town. This was where I made my first mistake - I plumped for travelling from Chennai to Kodai on Parveen travels, thinking that they were the only operators with a direct service. I learnt to my cost later that SETC as well as KPN Travels operate on the same route and apparently with better service - which would not have been difficult at all. Booked our bus tickets also online - proudly congratulating myself on my tech-savvy aproach to the whole thing. Little did I realise then, that pride definitely goes before a fall and mine was pretty imminent !!!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Our website

Well, our website has been up for quite sometime now - so the question arises as to why this mail and why now ? The answer of course, is that we need better visibility for the site - read that as better PageRank in Google and you will then understand what that means - you need quite a few external links to increase its rank and hence this attempt. I will try and talk to the other guys - as well as the department - to see if I can get more links pointing to our laboratory. MADHU

Saturday, March 24, 2007

World Cup Despair

I am going off to sleep though I had thought that I would have the guts to sit through India batting for a place in the Super Eight. But with - what else ? Tendulkar getting out, I find that I have lost interest !! Just imagine how much is riding on that little man's shoulders - it is a wonder that he is still able to perform. With the expectations of more than a billion riding on him, expecting to explode at each and every opportunity as well as some imagined, I am surprised that he is still going. But this is one match, I have lost my appetite for - my gut feeling is that India is going to lose and lose badly at that and I don't want to be around to watch the slaughter. Better I get my dose of beauty sleep !! Ciao !

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bolton's Comments

Today we have this news item appearing on the BBC Website, discussing what I was talking about in my last post. Apparently Mr.Bolton is "damn proud" of what he did to prevent an early ceasefire in the Lebanon conflict - and he has very good reason to be !!! Lebanon lost more than a thousand of its' citizens ( that is collateral damage !) while Israel gave up about a couple of hundred souls - all for helping Mr.Bolton and his country to remain the global policeman. But I wonder if they have any idea of the cost - in the immediate present as well as in the foreseeable future ? The number of 'martyrs' and the innumerable more of the desperate fighters being created ? All being targeted at one common enemy. And guess who that is ? No prizes there, I am afraid ! If there is one person who has done more to hurt the US image internationally - especially in Asia and the Middle East - than Mr.Bolton, I am yet to hear of him/her. MADHU